March 19 (UPI) -- Crude oil prices lacked clear direction early morning Monday as the market remains stuck between two competing production narratives.
Crude oil prices shot up in Friday trading amid saber-rattling from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman against the kingdom's nemesis, Iran. That geopolitical risk factor added to growing concerns about renewed U.S. sanctions on Iran, sanctions that could pull oil from an ever-tightening market.
The risk overshadowed an increase in the North American rig count. Reported by Baker Hughes, rig counts offer a glimpse at potential developments in the exploration and production side of the energy sector and gains could be indicative of future growth.
"Then there is the possibility of Russian sanctions," Phil Flynn, the senior market analyst for the PRICE Futures Group in Chicago, said in market commentary emailed to UPI. "Vladimir Putin won a rigged election and is coming under fire by the U.K. and the U.S. for using a nerve agent to poison a former spy."
The U.S. Treasury Department last week slapped Russian entities with sanctions for cyberattacks on the U.S. energy sector. Russia is one of the world's leading oil producers and U.S. and European sanctions on Russia already forced Exxon Mobil out of a joint venture with Russian oil company Rosneft.
"There is a lot on the plate for oil this week," Flynn added.
The price for Brent crude oil was down 0.12 percent as of 9:18 a.m. EST to $66.13 per barrel. West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark for the price of oil, was down 0.34 percent to $62.20 per barrel.
Crude oil prices are about 7 percent below their early 2017 peak above $70 per barrel. The price for oil has been stuck in the current range for most of the quarter as supplies from the United States balance efforts by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to trim a surplus.
"There appears to be two dominant and contrasting forces in the crude market -- U.S production growth, and OPEC's ongoing efforts," Matthew Smith, the director of commodity research at ClipperData, told UPI.
Oil prices could follow broader market trends ahead of Tuesday's meeting of the U.S. Federal Reserve board. The meeting follows a downward revision in estimates from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta on U.S. growth in gross domestic product, from 1.9 percent for the first quarter to 1.8 percent.